What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet”
William Shakespeare… what if he’d traded as Globe Spun Words?
Would he have been as successful?
Or if he’d traded as William Shakespeare, but in fact hired freelance playwrights to craft some of his plays?
You’re a freelance creative talent. A person. But you’re also a business. Should you use a business name? Or your real, personal one?
What difference would it make?
For the Being Freelance podcast I’ve spoken to quite a few freelancers trading behind a brand.
Possibly my favourite of all the company names came from exhibitions designer Rebecca Shipham. Two years into self employment she started trading as… Ships And Pigs.
She felt uncomfortable blowing her own trumpet as Rebecca Shipham.
But as Ships And Pigs…
“It was me, but it wasn’t as well. I could write about me in the third person. I could start to refer to myself as a business and actually it was good because then I started to feel like a business.”
“Me sat in my living room doing designs – it kind of felt like I was playing at it – but when I gave myself a business name it had a different mindset in me. I thought, okay well, now I’ve got that name maybe I am a business!”
“I could refer to myself as a business… I started to feel like a business.”
Col Skinner, a digital marketing consultant, despite his splendidly individual and memorable name trades as Profoundry. He too thought being a company would change his thinking. He also knew it would be fun to actually flesh out that company persona.
“Straight from the offset, I wanted a brand name that I could work under. I figured if I set up as a company, get an office, get a brand name, get a website, not only will I take it seriously but also I have a brand that can move with what I want to offer.”
“It never appealed to me being ‘Col Skinner Incorporated’ – I really enjoy the process of creating a brand and the logo etc, and I didn’t want to miss out on that.”
A brand name can also make you look bigger, one reason copywriter Joel Klettke transformed into Business Casual Copywriting.
“When I started out I realised: nobody knows my name, nobody is going to be able to pronounce my surname. I can put myself out there as ‘Joel Klettke’ but that sounds very small and unless I’ve got credibility behind it, the only people who are going to hire me are going to come from referrals.
“When you have a personal name for your freelancing you feel very small, by changing that to Business Casual, it gave me a brand I could play with, it gave me a persona I could play with, it gave me the ability to scale in time so if I added writers I could keep the same name.”
Hear that? “To scale in time…”
Maybe a company name is about ambition to be more than just yourself.
That’s definitely the case for video creator Neil Waddington as Forty Four Sixteen.
“I’ve always traded as a brand, so I’ve never been out there as Neil Waddington as a freelancer. I’ve always wrapped it in a brand, which was a decision I took because I wanted to build it.”
Just like Joel’s thinking; if one day maybe you’d like to grow your company, maybe you should start out as that company from Day 1.
Interestingly, Neil’s company started as two freelancers working together, grew to a mid-size office with camera ops, editors, assistants, a graphic designer… and then when recession hit it had to scale back to just him again (he’s since rebuilt it)… but all the time as ‘4416’. So outwardly, to the public/clients, nothing has changed.
Developer Remy Sharp traded straight away as Left Logic despite the fact that “it was entirely me for the first six years…’.Then he subcontracted work to another freelancer and eventually took on a couple of employees. And now it’s back down to him (by choice, being a boss wasn’t for him). But as far his clients are concerned, it’s always Left Logic.
“A brand gave me the ability to scale in time”
For others, the name itself can have a power over you; it can inform the business’ direction.
Strategist Louisa Heinrich (another who always planned to grow beyond herself) trades as Superhuman Limited.
“It’s a statement on what I believe in that helps me keep my own head on straight. It also helps clients differentiate between me and whoever else is out there. It conveys a philosophy and a way of doing things more readily than just a person and a CV, no matter how great that CV is.”
So partly the name helps how your clients interpret you, but it also helps you understand yourself. As Louisa continues, trading as a name, “gives me a platform for communicating to prospective clients. It helps me market myself: who ‘we’ are and what ‘we’ do.
It also helps make decisions as to what to engage with and what to leave aside.”
It’s that last bit that lingers with me. That a brand name can help you decide “what to engage with and what to leave aside”.
As individual freelancers we have the potential to use lots of our skills, take on lots of varied work, maybe take on too much work. But when you’re a company, you’re able to think, ‘does this work suit this company?’
It forces you to focus.
There’s another reason for Superhuman Limited’s existence. It echoes Joel’s point about a personal brand feeling small. Maybe too small to work with certain clients.
Louisa’s found that “some kinds of work are easier to enter into as a company than as an individual. Some of my projects involve going up for government funding which is virtually impossible to get as a freelancer.”
So, does using a company name mean you can go for bigger clients?
Could it even mean those clients won’t mind paying a higher price? Psychologically justifying a bigger budget for a business than an individual?
“Some kinds of work are easier to enter into as a company than as an individual.”
Another benefit of using a company name is being able to help define what you do in the name itself. Great for client understanding and also I’d have thought, great for SEO. If I called myself ‘Folland Business Videos’, it’d be pretty clear right?
For example illustrator Jessica Morgan trades as Jessica Draws. Her brand name manages to be personal, fun and descriptive of what she does. This is also true of audio producer Chris Hollis who trades as New Noise Audio. Again, both these freelancers planned to grow their companies.
As Joel said to me, “there’s no correct way to do it”.
For all of these company names, I’ve chatted to loads of successful, happy freelancers trading under their own names – building up their personal brands. And let’s face it, what you do is personal, it’s your talent, there’s nothing wrong with being you. In fact, there’s a whole lot right with being you.
We live in an era where our ‘personal brands’ are seriously worth investing in even alongside whatever company you might trade as or work for. Even though they have company brand names, for example, Louisa, Joel and Remy are sought after speakers as themselves.
Just because you’re a company, doesn’t mean you have to let ‘you’ go. Despite Wayne Enterprises, Batman still gets a lot of work. Though his work/life balance isn’t great.
This is something I’ve really wrestled with personally for the past couple of years. Should I be, well, me?
I think two of the key things I’ve discovered from my conversations about being a brand are growth and mindset.
As Steve Folland, I regularly hire talented videographers, animators, voiceovers to work on projects with me. But what if they worked with me all the time? Would they feel more invested working for ‘Folland Media’ (or whatever)? Might that perhaps be creating a company that can grow and outlive me?
It’s not that I have the ambition to grow into an agency or production house right now, but what if? Doesn’t it make sense to start with one brand name now and then keep it?
And would it give more gravitas when dealing with some of my larger clients like colleges and councils? I work with multi-nationals now, but only ever when hiding behind someone else’s branded smokescreen.
And as for mindset? Perhaps trading as a company name actually helps you make better decisions that help you grow. If I was ‘Folland Media’, maybe I’d take better care of my finances, maybe I’d feel better about outsourcing, maybe I’d be more focussed in selecting the type of work I do.
Perhaps with a brand name I’d take a step back and look at it all in a more objective way, to have ‘business plans’, as Rebecca puts it: ‘to feel like a business’.
Good luck figuring it out for yourself.
But remember, as Juliet said when pleading Romeo to rebrand from Montague:
“A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
However you decide to name your business; do what you do, be the best you can be and success can still smell just as sweet.
Listen to these guests and more talk in detail about being freelance over at Steve’s podcast, here.