Branding Your Freelancing Business: Personal Name vs Business Name

When you build your freelancing business, at some point the question of branding will come up. What do you want to call your business, and what image do you want to project?

This is when you’ll want to think hard about your freelancing business’ name and identity.

You have two choices: either use your personal name or come up with a “formal” business name.

Either one has advantages and disadvantages, which you’ll see below.


Using Your Personal Name: Pros and Cons

Using your personal name as your business name is, of course, the easiest and fastest way to come up with a brand.

In some areas, if you use your own name and conduct business as a single proprietorship, you don’t need to register it. (Please double-check the laws in your location to make sure this applies.)

If you’re just starting out and don’t have the resources to formally register a business name, or are not sure if you’re into freelancing for the long haul, this may be the best option for you. (However, if you have a common name, it’s a good idea to register your personal name anyway, to avoid duplication.)

On the other hand, using your personal name as your business name does have its disadvantages too.

For one thing, your business may be perceived as less professional, less serious and even less credible than if you had a “real” business name.

Secondly, it may be much harder to sell your business later. Investors in general would be unwilling to purchase an existing business that’s tied too much to a specific person–unless you become rich and famous, of course.

It’s also impossible to communicate your Unique Selling Proposition by using your personal name, instead of a punchy but meaningful business name.

Finally, in some countries, markets, and cultures, your name may be inappropriate to use. For example, if it is difficult to pronounce, spell or remember, then you’d be harming your business by using your personal name. This can be a big issue if you want to work with clients in different countries and cultures.

Using a Formal Business Name: Advantages and Disadvantages

After reading the above, you may conclude that using a formal business name is the best way to go.

It has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The benefits of using a business name rather than your personal name are that, first of all, you can clearly communicate your USP, main benefit or value in a business name. Your business name alone, if well crafted, can immediately communicate to your prospects.

A good business name will also lend you credibility. Plus, it’s much easier to sell your business later on (if you choose to do so).

That said using a business name also has its drawbacks. In the first place, you’ll want to put a lot of thought into crafting one. It needs to be memorable, punchy, and meaningful. Some companies spend thousands of dollars working with consultants just to identify good brand names for their products.

If you’re up to it, you could conduct market research to make sure your business name is attractive and effective with your target market.

And then, after you’ve found the business name you’re happy with, you’ll need to go through the process of registering it. You’ll need to make sure that it’s unique and hasn’t been registered by another business, at least in your locality. The entire process requires money, time, and effort.

Also, choosing a business name entails making a long-term commitment. That name will be on all your communication materials, such as business cards, stationery, email signatures, website, and advertisements.

If you suddenly change your mind, decide to reinvent your business, or have to switch markets or focus, it may not be easy to do so with your existing business name. Changing your business name will result in additional costs, time and effort as well.

What It All Boils Down To

In the end, how you brand your business will depend on your personal preference and business goals.

The easiest path to take is to begin with your personal name and then, as your business grows, to acquire a business name.

All businesses need to “grow up” at one point. It’s possible that you build such a good reputation that your personal name would make your business more marketable and even more sellable. Names of big advertising agencies come to mind.

Or, you could prefer to keep your business distinct from your personality and go with a formal business name.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Personally, I’m still too fickle-minded to commit to a business name right now–although I know I will pick one someday soon.

How about you? Do you use your personal name as your business name, or did you come up with another business name? May I know how you came to that decision?

Do share your thoughts in the comments below and help other freelancers make their choice.

Image by kaibara87

Comments

  1. says

    Great post, well written and some good none biased points made :)

    I’ve been using my personal name for a few years, and one pro that you didn’t mention was that it’s seen as a more personal approach to clients, this may however be a down side too though.
    But at least in my experiences, clients who are looking to hire a freelancer in the first place are looking for that added personal touch that you don’t get from hiring a design firm or “real business”

    -Aaron

  2. says

    I would like to pick a business name, but it is so hards too pick a good one. In my country there is (Slovenia) also a law that business names can be only in native language. Every thing that is appropriate it’s already taken. Thats lives me only with imaginary names. :/

  3. says

    I use my name rather than a business name. The reason is that I started out as a freelancer working on PR projects for PR agencies, based in their offices. So I was like an employee but freelance rather than on their payroll. Then, I gradually moved from doing PR to focusing on copywriting – again working for agencies but this time mainly graphic design and web agencies.

    I’ve been a freelance copywriter for many years now and people know me as ‘Carole Seawert’ so I don’t want to change my name to a company name. Also, as you mention, Lexi, there’s the cost and hassle of getting all your marketing materials redone. However if I were to start out again, I’d choose a company name which included the word ‘Copywriting’.

  4. says

    @Aaron – Great point about the personal touch! Thanks for adding that in the discussion.

    @xrado – Wow, must be hard to come up with a good business name, then, with all those restrictions.

  5. Eric says

    After 10 years in business, I am finally taking a business class.
    And the first thing I’ve learned about what I’ve been doing wrong all these years…
    START WITH A BUSINESS PLAN!!!!!

    Everything revolves around that, the name included.

  6. says

    I kind of struggled with this for a while. I finally decided to use my name, because:

    a) I intend to work alone for the most part, with no intentions of selling my business. I also feel that it would be somewhat deceptive for me to “hide behind” a corporate name when I know that I’m a one-girl business.
    b) I want to have the freedom to change my logo/design when it’s appropriate. I feel more at liberty to do that with my name than I would with a company that I started. I want my brand to be experimental and flexible.
    c) I really like my name – it’s unique without being too difficult :)
    d) It helps my clients in the long run by eliminating something else they have to remember. They don’t have to remember a specific contact from a specific company – they just have to remember me.

  7. says

    First of all, thanks for the thoughtful post. This is an important topic. I’ve freelanced on and off for over 20 years and always used just my name until earlier this year. I’m doing a sort of hybrid. I still use my name for business purposes – that’s how my clients know me and I don’t want to set up a DBA or register a business name. But my blog and Facebook page are “branded” with a business name, WagnerWrites, which incorporates my name (obviously). I had a logo created with this name in a fun type treatment. The whole thing has worked well so far. It has given my business a somewhat more professional image though I don’t think it was strictly necessary until I began blogging and using social media heavily.

  8. says

    For my IT (and now web development) business I went with a company name as I knew that eventually I was going to grow it from a one-person freelance operation into a larger company. Also back in 2000 freelancing wasn’t looked at as kindly as it is now, so a big company sounding name was the way to go.

    I’ve spoken with many freelancers who use their own name in the company name, especially consultants, designers, and developers, as they are working to make a name for themselves rather than some “company” entity. It seems to work quite well.

  9. says

    A caveat from personal experience: If you use a formal business name, please make sure to search the U.S. Patent and Trademark database at http://tess2.uspto.gov to see if your proposed name conflicts with any federal trademarks — *before* you spend any money on your local registration!

    Last year, I received a cease and desist from an identically named business that had started up around the same time I did, but he had secured the federal trademark. Didn’t matter that he was in NJ and I was in AZ, I had to come up with a new name. (In the end it’s OK, because I like the new name better anyway.)

    Lesson learned, I now budget for securing the federal trademark for all of my business enterprises that warrant it. It’s expensive, because you really need to hire an intellectual property attorney to do it properly, but I sleep better at night.

  10. says

    I went for my name because as a freelancer I wanted to mimic a reputation like a “Timbaland” or “P Diddy” reputation rather than a common business name that no one knows the name of. I worked for a company for many years and found that when you work as a designer and a company name nobody knows of the person designing. As a creative artist or even in general as a creative individual its a good personal feeling to get acknowledged for your work rathre than under an ‘umbrella company name’.

  11. says

    Personally I used to use my nickname as a Brand, now I upgraded that nickname to an actual legal Brand Name and it’s working like a charm :).

    Even tho I could have use my real name as a Brand since it’s really rare!. :)

    BR.

    Lautaro B.

  12. says

    I went with the business name route. I found a great name for my business and nobody in my locality has it. If you are in the web-industry you will understand it right away, if you are not, the ‘designs’ part of hit hints at what category of business I am in. My company is called ‘float:left designs’. I did try to use my name but I have a very popular first, and last name, so it made it very tough to find an open Domain, and open business. I didn’t want to make people click around a ton before getting to me.

    There are def. pro’s and con’s to both of them, but since I don’t have a semi-unique name I was kind of forced into coming up with a business name.

  13. says

    I went with a company name when I registered my business last year. Practical considerations won out in that decision – I am still using my married name which is going to change as soon as the divorce is done and dusted. If I get married again, I would definitely take my husband’s name – so to minimise the confusion and hassle of name changes I thought it more practical to use on online identity that I already had. It’s worked out well for me.

  14. says

    I chose to develop a business name and brand for myself because as a freelancer, most clients think that a bigger, more well developed company is better. They don’t trust an individual, or they seem to think that an individual is not as professional and don’t take you as seriously as an actual company. I’ve had people ask for ridiculous things or think that I will agree to take on a project for them for no pay just so that I can add it to my portfolio. Um…. yeah, I don’t think so. With an actual business they tend not to do this.

    On the other hand, most agencies or firms that are looking for contract employees do not want a company, they are looking for individuals to do projects for them. Being that I already have my website and made my logo and all, I decided to do an adaption of both. I have my company logo and design on my website, but under my logo I added, The online portfolio of Faith Santillana. This way is still looks like a real company but theres no doubt that I am an individual. And actually, right now, I have all the content on my website changed because I am focusing more on looking for a full time job than freelance work.

  15. says

    I have a business name (Adirnah Design) BUT “Adrinah” uses every letter in my current (soon to be maiden) last name.

    The reason I didn’t want to use my last name is because I knew I’d change it one day and didn’t want to be “stuck” with a name that I was no longer called but didn’t want to lose my last name all together. I think Adrinah (pronounced uh-dree-nah) is a unique name and is special to me.

  16. Rj says

    I have a business (s-corp) then setup a DBA (doing business as, or in some places a fictitious name) as my name and then just use my name.

    My CPA has found it’s better for me to do this for tax reasons while still getting to use my name!

  17. says

    I decided to go with my name because it’s more personal. I like that when I put my name on something, it’s kind of like me putting my personal stamp of approval on it. I would not put my name on something that I would not stand behind proudly.

  18. says

    I have formed my Blog name “Espreson” from “Expression”. Then I formed Espreson Media as my business entity. Because the name Espreson got validated As I was associated with it since 2007.
    Branding is an identity, how do you represent it that matters.

  19. says

    I think that a personal name gives the impression that a person is successful. The fact that he was able to start his own business means that he is already very good at what he does. But it can also imply small capital. Business name on the other hand gives the impression that the company is big and could have investors. The disadvantage on the other hand is that it may not be solely associated to you. Personally, I choose a business name over personal as it is more credible.

    Allow me to share with you a great article on Profitable Business Ideas. Learn potential growth for years to come.

  20. says

    Great article! Very good points about both sides! Thank you for taking the time to write it!

    I started my freelancing business just a few years ago, and I feel like I rushed myself through the name-brainstorming process. Now that I’ve had plenty of time to think about it, I regret not having put more thought and whit into my business name. However, I’ve been getting just enough word-of-mouth locally that I’m afraid if I change it now, I’ll be hurting my business and reputation that I’ve built thus far. So I guess I’ll just ride it out until I come up with something ground breaking and take the plunge!

  21. TGM says

    I’ve been freelancing on top of having a full-time job for 12 years. As a freelancer I always used my name because I didn’t see the need to have a business name while working full-time. All my clients came from word-of-mouth. I did not have a business card, or an online portfolio to showcase my work. It was based on recommendations, trust and who-you-know. Lucky for me, after many years, my clients are still with me. One reason for not using a business name was that I couldn’t commit to a logo and a business name, something that I would be able to live with for ever.

    Things changed last weekend. I finally decided to rebrand myself and function under a business name. I’m very excited about it and I know my clients will be too. If anything, it will enhance and grow my business.

    Did I mention I’m a graphic/web designer?

  22. says

    Wonderful post Lexi! Freelancers who plan on taking the business route should know the pros and cons of choosing a personal or a business name.

    Personally, I chose my name as my business name because of the time, costs, and effort it takes to come up and register a business name. I also think clients would remember me more if I use my personal name, especially those I’ve worked with before. But for other things like a blog, I’d come up with its own brand name.

  23. says

    I wanted an unusual company name and found it through the reverse lookup at dictionary.com. When people ask me about my company name, it’s the perfect opening for my “elevator speech.”

    In Nebraska, my home state, when you register for an LLC, the Attorney General’s office will research the name first to make sure you’re not infringing on trademarks, etc. If you are, they’ll let you know. Googling first helps.

    However, if you have a name in mind and the URL is open, pay for the URL and TAKE IT. My first choice was open, but I thought I’d better send in my LLC application first, which I did on a Friday. I got it back the following Tuesday. But by then, my name had been taken by someone in Gibraltar who was going to put up an online gambling site. It still hasn’t been developed. GRRRRR. . . . .

    Another advantage of having a business name is being able to do business under a federal Tax ID number instead of your personal Social Security number. Much more confidential.

    FInally, a shout out to Eric for the business plan suggestion. I had to do mine the first year so I could apply for a grant. It really helped me solidify my plans and take stock of where I was and where I was going. I still use the forms I created for tracking my income and expenses. Contact me if you want help writing one.

  24. MAtt McArdle says

    I use my own name and always have done. The idea of freelancing to me has always been as a hired hand – a ‘free lance’ or a mercenary soldier where the word derives from… employed by anyone. An end-client or an agency, working from home or in someone’s studio, I don’t care – it’s all about flexibility and getting paid for delivering the goods in a professional manner. A business name would not work for me as it would disguise what I truly am.

  25. says

    Like Dani, I think that an individual going under a business name can often be a little like a masquerade, pretending that he/she is more established, more recognized and bigger of a business than it really is: just an individual who has a skill.

    Since I’m a student who freelances in my spare time, I just go by my own name. I make it clear that I am indeed a student and don’t have a degree yet, but I have a portfolio that’s growing as well as a decent site that I’ve spent quite a few hours on. I think that giving myself a business name could seem pretentious to prospective clients.

    Also, I’ve noticed that quite a few designers who know what they’re talking about and have been relatively successful have gone by their own names, and they’re known in the community as a person, so there’s some advantage to that.

  26. says

    After a lot of thinking I’ve decided my business has to be called exactly as my name. Why? Because it was easier. Because it represented me. Because interested people might reconize me as the head of that company. A business name would probably mean a bit of “hiding”, you might actually choose this option if you don’t want people to know your name. By naming my company with my name I offer credibility, in my opinion.

  27. says

    I elected to go with a business name because my last name has given me fits ever since I was a child. It’s unique, but it is also hard to pronounce and causes more confusion than I care.
    Of course I choose a greek term for my business name so I’m not certain I’ve solved any of my problems.. lol. of well. I like it better than my own name :)

  28. says

    Thanks for this article.

    I am in the beginning stages of setting up as a freelance web designer, and I’m currently trying to decide whether or not to go with my name or a business name. I think I’m likely to go with my personal name for my brand, under which I’ll take on bespoke work, but also create a couple of side businesses related to what I do and my brand in order to supplement my income. This way, I can sell these side businesses later once I qualify as a full time teacher, and then if for some reason I lose my job or I resign, I will still have my freelance skills and personal brand to fall back on.

    Seeing that I know next to nothing about business plans etc, does anyone here have any advice? I’m in the UK so if you’re from the UK and you have experience as a freelancer, any advice would be appreciated.

    Thank you.

  29. says

    I use my name that way it gives the feel to my client that they are dealing with me directly and am no big company where they have to do formalities anyways its my view point

  30. says

    It really depends on your aspirations. Are you looking to hire freelancers or not? If you’re looking to start a freelance company, then you might want to choose a company name, and not your own name.

  31. says

    You make some excellent points. Your best is that is really boils down to your goal. Here at BrandBucket we like to focus on creating major brand names that you can stick with. You mentioned rebranding, if your business changes or you have to switch directions the right brandable business name can travel with. You made a great point with selling a name too. Its far more likely you can sell a brandable business name rather than a personal name or super keyword loaded name. A brandable name has the potential to be a brand name.

  32. says

    @Susan If they are going to be prejudiced against me because of any of those things I’d rather not work with them anyway. Sometimes it’s better to not take a job, especially one that will cause more stress than it’s worth.

  33. says

    I’ve always used my company name. I specialize in graphic and web design for small to mid-sized businesses, so it’s imperative that my own branding is rock solid. The copywriting on my site is written in first-person to present a fresh, authentic, and compelling brand I can also create for my clients.

    When I entered the biz in 1999, I used my personal name and discovered that larger companies would be hesitant to engage in business. So that was motivation behind creating a company name. I still believe clients prefer to hear “Hi, it’s Chuck Spidell from Illusio Design” rather than “Hi, it’s Chuck Spidell”. It helps to build a sense of longevity and trust with a company name. But again, that depends on your profession.

  34. says

    Thanks for your helpful article. I do use my own name for freelancing purposes but have also an online magazine/blog which tries to build my name as the brand name with a caricature and fun name – Lassi with Lavina. As a journalist, people in the community already knew me as someone who specializes in the Indian sub-continent so I thought it would build awareness to use the personal name and a catchy item from India – lassi, the yogurt drink which is hugely popular. Let me know what you think!

  35. says

    Great article!

    In my opinion it is much better to create a business. Even if it is a business of one member being yourself for the time being.

    My reasoning is that at some point you will most likely want to turn your freelance efforts into a business so why not start out that way.

  36. says

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  37. Orlando Morales says

    Great article. All the insights from different freelancers and entrepreneurs helped me a lot. I’m in the process of starting a web and graphic design business and have been on the fence about this topic for a while. I’m leaning towards a business name because this will be my full-time job and I am open to expansion. If I decide to hire an assistant or tap into other business markets, the transition might be easier. Thanks for the article and all the unique insights in the comments!

  38. Reke Onamusi says

    I am hoping to use my name, however my name sounds like Ricky but is spelled Reke. Is that a good or bad thing considering the pronunciation and spelling?

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