Freelancing: Using your own name vs. Creating a business name

A couple days ago, we discussed some essential pointers for naming your design business. Today, I’d like to discuss a topic that comes up frequently in my discussions with freelance designers.

Should you market yourself using your own name or create a business name?

There are Pros and Cons to each option and today I would like to explore each side.

Using your own name

One option that a lot of freelance designers take is to use their own name as the business name. There are clear benefits to this approach. Some of which include:

PROs

Using your own name allows you to appear affordable
Many people choose to hire a freelance designer over a design firm because they know they can get a better price most of the time. If you want to make sure your potential clients don’t get any mixed messaging, just stick with your own name.

Using your own name makes your company transparent and personal
People hate interacting with huge corporations. There’s nothing more annoying than never being able to get a hold of the person you need to when you need to. Using your own name as a business name is a great way to say, “I’m always going to be available for whatever needs you have.”

Using your own name can be memorable
You won’t ever find a client saying “Hey, maybe we should hire whats-his-name from John Smith Design.” If people can remember your business name, they can remember your name and vice-versa.

CONs

Using your own name can make you seem inexperienced
Unfortunately, some people associate the small feel using your name can create with inability to perform. The truth of the matter is, anyone can work from home and start a business call “Jane Smith’s Design Company”, for all they know, you’ve only been designing for a few weeks and they are your first real client.

Using your own name can make it TOO personal
Using a business name for your freelance company can create an imaginary barrier between you and your clients. This barrier can prove useful at 2 am when they are pacing in their home office trying to decide whether they should call you about a typo on their web site or not. Maybe you don’t want to seem that approachable to your clients.

Using your own name can create confusion in the future
If you plan to grow your business to include other employees, using your own name could get confusing. Not to say it hasn’t been done effectively before (take Ogilvy, Sam’s Club, Smith’s, or Johnson & Johnson to name a few).

Creating a business name

PROs

Using a business name enables you to charge more
A business name makes you sound more experienced and more dedicated to the design work you do. Because of that, it’s possible clients are willing to pay higher rates than if you give off a one-man show aura.

Using a business name can make you more marketable
It’s a lot easier to separate your personal life (especially online) from your professional life when you have a unique business name. After all, you probably don’t want your future clients to have access to your latest family vacation photos when are looking for information about your business.

Using a business name can make you seem experienced
Using a business name makes you seem well-established and experienced (only if you choose a good name. See here) so people could be more likely to hire and trust you.

Using a business name allows for growth
If you plan to hire employees one day, choosing a name that can grow along with your business is the right solution for you.

CONs

Using a business can make it impersonal
Just like using your personal name as a business name can make your designer-client relationship too personal, using a business name can make it too impersonal. Most people want to know they have someone (a real person) they can rely on to answer their questions and resolve their concerns. If you decide to choose a unique business name, make sure your marketing materials boast available and personal attention.

Using a business name could make you appear more expensive
If potential clients feel like they are going to have to pay for design time plus expensive overhead costs your fancy-pants business incurs, they are going to be less likely to hire you.

Using a business can be less memorable
In addition to remembering the name of their designer (you, of course), your clients will have to remember the name of your company whenever they receive invoices from you, write you a check, or recommend you to other potential clients. It could be worth it to have them remember just one name: yours.

Which do you use? A business name or your own personal name?

I’m curious to learn what the tendency of GDB readers is. Do you use your own name to market your design business or have you come up with a business name? If it’s the latter, tell us what business name you chose and why. Ok, go ahead. Share away.

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Comments

  1. Amanda Boyd says

    Really like what your saying here and was having to make a decision about this a while ago.

    I find most designers in the UK are using their own name in some sort of aspect to their freelance name to make it personal yet professional.

    For example aboydesigns is my own by shorting my own forename and surname.

  2. says

    I use my name with the word ‘design’ tacked on at the end. I’m a freelance designer in a small town, so one of the major factors in choosing my business name (which isn’t mentioned in your post) is recognition. Most of my clients are local, and perhaps have heard my family name around before (my husband’s family has been in the area for a very long time). My business name (Katy Dwyer Design) simply states both who I am and what I do. Simple and to the point.

  3. says

    Actually, I just changed from business to personal. I think there is no right or wrong, it depends on the market you’re targeting. I’m aiming at small companies, so I think a more personal image is appropriate.

  4. Nina Randone says

    Great article! I use my own name as well. I think it’s working well in a small town and I don’t feel a need to make it sounds like I am a larger firm when it’s just me.

  5. says

    Good post with some very valid points!

    I use all the letters of my maiden last name + design to create “Adrinah Design”. I think it gives me the pros of both the personal name and business name.

  6. says

    I think it depends on the clients you are (primarily) servicing. For instance, if your primary target market is mostly solo-preneurs, sure, they may be intimidated by a “design firm” (firm/agency = $$$). But the flip side to this is that naming your design business is a fabulous opportunity to demonstrate your creative ability! There’s nothing creative about using your own name. A little imagination in naming your design business can go a long way. People hire us BECAUSE we’re creative. I say, use that to your advantage. And try a unique title while you’re at it. We’ve all seen the title Creative Director (blah!) ;)

  7. says

    Its better to have a portfolio site and a company site. The portfolio site increases the value of your name and while the company site do the business. If it is a success, big heads may take over even the company. :). OR can merge with the biggies. Any of these may happen. So I believe in keeping the sites seperatly.

  8. Alison Gorman says

    Hi. I have been kind of going with Ali G Design… which is the short version of my first name and “G” is the first letter of my last name. Also “Ali G” kind of makes up for a somewhat humorous nickname (some of my closest friends call me “Ali G”). However, I often wonder if it’s bad marketing to call my “name/business” this? Will people not think I’m serious about my work or will they get it and/or not care either way? I’ve been looking for an article like this because I’ve been debating about what I should do. I’ve often think about coming with a whole new business name, mostly for the same reasons as Andrea Schultz. I just like the idea of a creative original name and not just “insert name here” + design. The only bad thing is coming up with a good enough creative business name that I’ll want to use permanently. There were actually points listed here that I’ve never really thought about, such as the personal/impersonal thing… Hmm, any advice anyone can give me?

  9. Akosua Addei says

    Some very valid food for thought here. I agree that it mostly depends on who you’re desired clientele are & if you may want to sell your company one day.
    Re: Alison Gorman, potentially I think it may do you more harm than good to use a shortening of your name that has such strong associations already – unless you only intend to have quirky clients who treat you in a familiar way. My own initials are AA, so

  10. Akosua Addei says

    (Sorry moderater, got cut off)
    My main problem concerning my own name is that it isn’t pronounced as it is spelt, nor is it too memorable! Spelled Akosua, pronounced Aquozia and my surname is pronounced Aday but spelled Addei. Is it only worth using your name professionally, if its easy to spell or shorten?
    Any opinions would be happily received :)

  11. says

    Akosua,

    Definitely, if your name is difficult to pronounce, or may have several pronunciations, it behooves you to come up with a moniker that either makes your name simple to say or only uses part of it. Check out the post on this blog about naming a business for a good discussion on how others have dealt with this problem.

    • Akosua Addei says

      Hi April, a belated thank you for your reply – you’re opinion is much appreciated (I only just noticed it!). My friends call me Kozy or Quoz, so it’s probably easier to use one of these – perhaps I’ll flip a coin!

  12. says

    Ive always been told that my name was unique…so I decided to do a play on it…I’m stuck between “Graphic Booze” “Artistic Booze” “Digital Booze” “JBooze” or just my name “jasminebooze”

    • Carrie Carpenter says

      Jasmine, depending on your style, I think using just your last name could be a lot of fun, especially if you want to attract edgier clients! However, if you have a more conservative clientele, they may not like the connection to alcohol. (I could see this being the case in the conservative Midwest town where I live.) Using Jasmine Booze is more straightforward, but also loses some of the quirkiness the other names have.

  13. Beni Rodriguez says

    This has been always a concern of mine… what to do with my name when Im going professional, cause Im spanish, but live in Norway now, and here they have “Benny” as the closest to my name, but I hate it, cause it reminds me of “Benny Hill”. So, using Beni would not be possible, and my last name: Rodriguez is hard to spell to a lot of people, not only norwegians but aswell in US… A lot say it like: RodrigUes <– there "U" is pronounced.

    Im soon to be an established portrait photographer, and my customers primarily would be families and single persons, and if possible some companies/magazines in the future.

    What do you think is the best way to go here? Use my name or play with it until I find something more commercial, or just find an artistic name I feel good with (even if its totally different to my name), or would a "company" name be the best option?

    I will read your article about "naming businesses" now :)

  14. Henry says

    AAAH this thread has helped me feel a lot like the “Sybil” of my new design world. I have used hobbies, my dog’s name, variations of both…. ugh ! After, torturing myself for maybe the past 2 years, trying to find a name that sounded professional and cool. And while I did get good feedback on my ideas, they still didn’t fully resonate with me. I finally realized (for me), being independent, that using my first and middle name sounded personal and professional ( Henry William Design) . I have gotten a thumbs up from everyone and more importantly it makes sense to ME. I’m so glad I found this post. :)

  15. Melissa Majewski says

    I’ve been considering a few for myself, and I like the idea of a high end classic typeface
    name called orange bicycle…a design firm.

    It’s creative, quirky, professional and high end all in one.

    Kind of like plaid tuba…

  16. says

    I usually wont hire anyone unless I first am able to view their profiles on social networks. I don’t want to hire someone to only find out that they’re getting drunk every weekend and posting pictures for the public. I also don’t want to hire someone that feels they have something to hide.

    Welcome to the real world. I don’t have to hire anyone I don’t want to for whatever reason I choose.

    Any potential employer that says they don’t do their own online background check is a liar. They care more about the content you put online then the resume you turn in. Your facebook page will tell them a lot more about you. (Hint: Take advantage of this fact.)

    Here’s a link to my website: http://jacobwilliamsmodeling.com
    And my personal facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/jacobdanielwilliams

  17. says

    My slaptogether neglected portfolio site was http://www.MEHgraphics.com.
    I make beats for sale, perform live, but do more graphic design for web and print than audio. I’ve only spent a minimal amount of effort on my portfolio for the last 10 years because I’ve been employed and busy. I’ve only recently decided to go full freelance (un-employed).

    MEH are my initials, and I had the tagline “Make Everything Happen”.
    Pretty catchy….Until now. The social networking world started using “meh” to meen “so-so”.
    As in: “how do you feel? Are you still sick”
    Response: “meh, I’m doing okay I guess”.
    That leaves me in a state of necessary change. And the graphics work is flying in right now. Mostly logo packages and website re-designs.

    Everybody calls me Beatfarmer or Farmer, because there are way too many Matts in my circle of friends – and because I always introduce myself as that (ego).
    Also, my studio/pad has always been known as “The Beatfarm” among rappers, DJs, bands I’ve played in, and people needing to get recording time or production lessons. This has played a big part in getting new business. A DJ friend of a friend comes to check it out, then asks about a new logo. Boom. $.

    So I need to kill the “MEHgraphics” and do a new DBA ASAP to get some proposals and invoices out. I plan on continuing to sell beats and do vocal production, but graphic design brings in more $.

    There are potholes with some of the obvious choices for names.
    1. “The Beatfarmer’s Productions” – apostrophe, and people screw it up
    2. “Beatfarm Productions” – taken
    3, “The Beatfarm” – taken
    4. “The Beatfarmer’s Studio” – apostrophe
    and many more…
    I also want to leave open the ability to have multiple employees and still have the name make sense. This is already in the works with some other designers and recording engineers.

    I’m leaning toward:
    1. “Beatfarmer AG”, (for audio and graphics)
    2. “Beatfarmer Creative” (kinda lame)
    3. “Beatfarm Designs” (kinda like it, but people might think it’s BeatfarmER designs, and I do more than design. Would you hire a Designer to master a song?)

    I need the All Encompassing Name for two main things:
    1. Graphics
    (web, print, even CSS and HTML coding and hosting. So I don’t really like “design” in the title)

    2. Audio Production (recording, mixing, mastering, beats for sale)

    Is this not your more challenging case Preston? I dare you to solve it!
    One way or another I need to DBA a name in order to get paid from one of my clients this week, so if I pick a name tonight I’ll post it here.
    HELP.

  18. Jen says

    Hey, awesome article! I’ve been tossing up on changing my business name as well but I’m having heaps of problems deciding on a name. My current business name is JKDM (Jennifer Kathy Design & Marketing). Jennifer Kathy is my first name and middle name. But this name has never really felt like ‘me’. I don’t really do that much marketing to warrant having it in my business name… I do more website and online work than anything I suppose. I want to go with something a little ‘cutsey’ but still professional (mainly because that’s pretty much me)! Would anyone have any suggestions?
    Thanks in advance…

  19. says

    I’m currently rebranding from using my initials to a company name.

    I live in a small farm town but it’s close to a large city so I need to reach small local businesses as well as larger firms in the city.

    I figured I would get around this dilemma by using a business name but then use a tagline of “the design portfolio of Josh Stevens”

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