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

tweet share share pin email

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.

tweet share share pin email

Like what you've read? Enter your email and we'll send you great content like this a few times each week.

 
About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Freelancing: Using your own name vs. Creating a business name | Graphic Design Blender -- Topsy.com()

  • Amanda Boyd

    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.

  • http://katydwyerdesign.com/ Katy

    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.

  • Andrew

    I think using just your last name achieves the best of both worlds.

    • Cyndi

      @Andrew, Agreed!

    • Katie

      My last name is Wood…if I make it “Wood Design,” I really doubt anyone will realize I do graphic/web design.

      • http://www.f-sharpmedia.com Femi Ajibade

        Katie that’s so true you never want to send the mixed messages across unless you do have woodworking skills.

        I’ve been debating on this topic before as well. I have a company with a proper business name (F-Sharp Media), at the same time looking to start a photography side project, which I want to put my name on as I’d like it to feel personal and approachable.

  • http://www.devongilchrist.com Devon Gilchrist

    I kind of have a hybrid going: My name is Devon Gilchrist and my business name is devon.g …so I guess I sit somewhere in the middle of your pros and cons!

  • Dan Alaimo

    What about in terms of issues of liability? Isn’t one more protected/insulated if incorporated?

  • http://Www.borishoekmeijer.nl Botis Hoekmeijer

    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.

  • Nina Randone

    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.

    • Melanee

      Plus you have a cool name.

  • http://adrinahdesign.com Adrinah Design

    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.

    • Shannon Astraea

      Adrianah Design does sound really nice and catchy.

  • http://visualtapestrydesign.blogspot.com Andrea Schultz

    Although I’m freelance, I went with a business name. I just don’t like the idea of using my name. It’d definitely a personal thing!

  • http://paragonmoon.com Kristine Putt

    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!) 😉

  • http://www.indian-seo-company.com/ Andrew

    Hmm.. Interesting article, thank you for this information. I will definitely try this.

  • http://www.pinered.com/ Manesh

    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.

  • Alison Gorman

    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?

  • Akosua Addei

    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

  • Akosua Addei

    (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 :)

    • Shanthi

      After saying it in my head I think your last name plus the word design or graphics sounds good.

  • http://www.be.net/agreer April Greer

    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

      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!

      • http://www.be.net/agreer April Greer

        No worries! It’s great you’ve got a nickname to work with. Both have a lot of possibilities.

  • http://www.facebook.com/byjasminebooze Jasmine Booze

    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

      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.

    • Erin G

      Graphic Booze is outstanding! Love it.

    • Melanee

      I agree with Erin. Graphic Booze got me right away!

  • Beni Rodriguez

    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 :)

  • Henry

    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. :)

  • Melissa Majewski

    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…

  • http://jacobwilliamsmodeling.com Jacob Williams

    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

    • http://glennedixon.com/ Glenn Dixon

      I see neither of these links is active any more. Not sure what that means…

  • http://www.mehgraphics.com Matt Hutchins AKA The Beatfarmer

    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.

  • Jen

    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…

  • http://jnsdesign.tumblr.com Josh

    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”

  • http://www.flauntmydesign.com Tomas Fransson

    I know I pondered my decision for quite a while (way too long.) For others struggling with the same dilemma I’ve created a nifty questionnaire helping you to decide between using your own name or a business name. I made it especially for freelance designers. :)

    (click the “Decide YOUR situation”-image to open the questionnaire)

    Hope it helps! :)

  • Chhaya

    Great article! I’ve been using my (maiden) name, Chhaya Joynt, for my freelance business with Graphic Design tagged on for years now. Am now shifting towards a rebrand and rename, and am cheered by the comments regarding using your surname only, as being the best of both worlds. That’s probably what I’m going to do now, become Joynt Creative.

    Anyone have an opinion on using ‘Creative’ instead of ‘Design’ in a business name? I do both graphic and web design, illustration, and could possibly branch out even more in future.

  • http://www.juhohenell.com Juho-Taneli Henell

    I have always used my own name as it is short, quite different and easy to remember! It does sound of positive as well as it can be used in the same way as WOOOOHOO!

  • http://www.marketchi.wordpress.com Amanda

    I am in serious need of a name change. I was recently interviewed by a local magazine and I want to be able to take advantage of any potential publicity. My “OMG I need a name RIGHT NOW!” name for my thrown together wordpress was MarketCHI. I chose it right when I moved to Chicago because I just needed something right away to direct clients to.

    Now I’m struggling to come up with a more permanent solution. The name I want to use (Hoss Creative) is one that I am mostly happy with. Its an homage to my dad, who passed away in ’99 and was a graphic designer, the reason I became a designer, and just generally all around my hero. His nickname was Hoss. Unfortunately Hosscreative.com is taken, and my fiance thinks it may make me sound too ‘provincial’. I am considering hosscreativesolutions.com or hosscreativellc.com but I’m afraid they sound forced/too long.

    I want my brand to be a one stop marketing shop. I do everything from product photography to web design to social media. I also do all of my own printing. I want to be seen as professional, creative and clever. I’m just really struggling with this name thing.

    Oh, and I HATE my last name (Dobbs) and my first name is incredibly generic. My initials are AND, so I’ve tried to come up with something there, but just can’t seem to find the right fit. ANY feedback would be much appreciated!

    • Lili

      Have you thought of Hoss & Dobbs ? & being symbolic of your initials :)

      • Krista

        ANDmarketing or ANDdesign implies that you cover marketing or design plus more, which you do… I like it!

  • http://www.marknarusson.com/ Mark Narusson

    This is a real tough one. Although I market myself under my own name, I still have in the back of my mind that I should change to a company name. I feel sometimes that my own name is holding me back from working with bigger companies. There is no happy medium. I guess I need to decide if I am going to expand at some point and that might give me my answer.

  • Brian Hoddy

    Thanks for posting this! I’m having some trouble with this and hoping that someone could give me some advice.

    My name is Brian Hoddy, which I originally was going to use for my graphic design company name. My last name is pronounced “Hottie” or at least that’s how people say it, and the dd’s and tt’s just blend together when saying it. Even though it is a bit entertaining to most people to hear this is my last name and how it’s pronounced, I’m not a huge fan of it and have been steering away from using my name for my business. Plus I don’t want peple to get the wrong message and ask “why is he calling himself a hottie?” before they read how my name is spelt…lol. It happens all the time trust me. I did come up with an alternative that does use part of my name, but I’m still unsure if it would be good to use.

    “B Vibrant” is the name I came up with separate from my actual name, “Brian Hoddy Design”, but I’m not sure how I feel about it…Could anyone help me out with some feedback please? I would greatly appreciate it :) Thanks!

    • http://6birds.net Liz

      What about “B.H. Design” or “Brian H. Design”?

      P.S. I pronounced it haw-dee. :s Saying it aloud, however, I hear how it can sound like “hottie”.

  • malfunctioned

    I’ve been struggeling with this ever since I started my own freelance business. I’m a graphic designer and my main focus (when I started out) was mostly print design. But now, I’m seeing my way through the digitalized world as well, of course.
    My real name is Michelle Wighman. I don’t really like my last name, people in school always called me ‘wigwam’ -and not like a good thing-.
    I always liked having a business name instead of using my own name. When I finished school, I immediately started my freelance business, the current name of my company is muteprint designs. I got it from a song title of a band I used to like. But it never really sat right with me, i could never really form a right logo with it.
    I want something that catches on better. I’ve had things in mind like Stingray Studios or something with which I could form some kind of image logo that would work as an eyecatcher. I don’t want the name to be dull or formal, I want something playful, cool and something that sticks. I also like a play on words, but I find it hard to come up with such things that haven’t already been used. There was a illustrator/graphic artist I used to like who called himself El Jefe. I thought this was such a great name, which obviously translates into ‘the boss’ and refers to being good at what you do and being your own boss, it sounds cool and you can definitely play with it in terms of creating a logo. He recently changed the name though, I think it’s because he’s been expanding, but I’m not entirely sure.
    Anywhooooo I’m still thinking of a fitting name!

  • Lauren Rasberry

    Hi! I know it may have been a while since you wrote this post – but I’m struggling to find a name for myself too, my name is Lauren Rasberry (missing the p – I know!!) and I really didn’t want to use my name because that’s the easy option.

    Yet I’ve been told that I MUST use my last name as it’s so unique.

    I would rather have like something clever and punchy, something well thought out.
    I just don’t know though! I can’t think of anything.

    I loved the idea of something italian – and I always like to be known as the queen or the boss or something really powerful – but translated them and they don’t sound very good.

    Raspberry translated is lampone. Not good.

    But I’d love something like “la” and then another word. Like “la femme” or something.

    Heeeeelp

  • vasarenar

    I use my personal name for my website but I’m thinking about changing domain name for my blog to something more marketable

    http://www.vasarenar.com
    blog http://www.vasare.co.uk