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For a designer who begins doing freelance or start (or renaming) his/her own business, there's usually that critical decision that must be made:

Should I use my own name or have a business name for my services?

In the past, I've been discouraged in using my own name so I chose a "cool" name instead for my business. But I'm about to move in another region where I need to either renew or change my business name if I want to.

In my case, my clients know me well and both names are already a bit everywhere online; in fact they often prefer to use my website domain name instead of my business name, so the business name needs to be changed anyway. I don't have the kind of John Smith name so I'm quite easy to find, and I like both my name and biz name!

Right now I offer all sort of graphic design services but mainly branding, packaging and marketing. I also started this year signing contracts as an agent for illustrators that I publish, and plan to sell more giant format digital art of my own as well. And that's what I plan to expand in the next 10 years and get a bit less "technical" and more artistic. That's a bit why I was wondering if my short business name could fit or if I should simply use my own name as branding.

I remember how "the choice of name" was a big topic among designer friends who were also starting their company 15 years ago, and I'm quite sure the question is still relevant for new designers today. The difference is that I was surrounded with designers who didn't have any experience themselves and I feel I would get very different feedback today from a community of designers like this one.

Some arguments I've heard against using personal name is:

  • It's too "ego", artsy or self-centered
  • "What if you hire employees?"
  • You're not a popular designer yet
  • It's lame, not original

And the pros for business names:

  • It's more distinctive
  • It's better if you plan to work in team
  • It makes you look more like a serious business

Is there any more benefits in using your personal name as a designer or a business name instead? Or a mix of both?

Since design is very close to art and craft, I wonder if I shouldn't have the "Picasso" mindset for this; if it wasn't design, I guess the decision wouldn't be as difficult.

  • This one's tough! It's kind of a "to each their own" thing, yeah? I certainly used to see way more designers using "business" names over their own names, but I think there's been a shift towards the individual over the last decade. I love this FAQ from Jessica Hische, she addresses your exact question in #1 with some great points: jessicahische.is/aseriousoversharer – Vicki Aug 27 '15 at 4:15
  • @VickiEbberts Thanks for the links! I encourage you to write an answer, I'll put a bounty on that question in 2 days. And you seem to be able to easily fit a lot of words in such a little comment's space, feel free to let me know more about the pros and cons! It's very personal but I do think there's also some technical sides I haven't thought of. For example, it sucks getting a pay check with my domain name on it and not my biz name or my own name haha! – go-junta Aug 27 '15 at 4:30
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    @go-me I'm saying it's an opinion-based question. That doesn't make it a bad question--it's just not a good fit for this site. I do have an opinion on it, but it's merely an opinion. – DA01 Aug 27 '15 at 14:27
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    @DA01 I completely disagree. This is an example of a good subjective question. It's a great for this site and works just fine in the SE format. – JohnB Aug 27 '15 at 14:37
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    I don't think that theres a one-fit-all solution ut you only named contra points for personal name and pro points for the brand name so I guess you already made a decision on your own subcounciously – BlueWizard Aug 27 '15 at 19:42
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This question has TOP priority also in my mind and I made research for this a lot. Some other benefits:

Using a Business name:

  • It gives the opportunity to sell the business later if needed (of course if you know for 100% that you will not sell, then forget about this);

  • Better because if your business doesn't go as you planned, for example, you get some bad clients in a row and then they tell others that you work bad etc. - then your Business with it's unique name gets all the unfortunate stuff on it and at the worst situation, the Business with this name stops working. But, if you were working with your own name, then you would damage your reputation as a designer and it would be worse;

  • A chance to find a very unique name that fits the best for your provided services and would be as a little key to success better that personal name. (Here we need to keep in mind that every picked word can be the most successful if things go right).

Using your Personal name:

  • If you have very good portfolio to show, you have knowledge and ability to make a great site for your own, I would suggest by starting with your name, because with really nice portfolio and being a nice person, you will gain success in any case.

  • If you feel better to work as individual and you are minded to work more alone.

Popular, well known designers work on their own, with big experience, high reputation, they decide to go with their names, because so many people know them by their names so it becomes a natural way.

Also need to understand the benefits from legal point of view. Is it better to work on your own as a freelancer or start your own business. The taxes, how it looks from this point. This aspect is pretty much important and often decisive. In every country laws are different.

This question is very complicated by finding the right solution for each of us, but I hope that searching information, brainstorming, talking with people, the answer will come.

  • Very good points. It's true a graphic design business will rarely be resold, especially if there's no infrastructure, a brand (eg. t-shirt company) or a system that comes with it. The difference between wanting to be freelance or being a brand changes a lot the pros and cons. Thanks! – go-junta Aug 31 '15 at 19:49
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I think this is primarily an opinion-based question. Here's mine.

Should I use my own name or have a business name for my services?

Yes.

In other words, it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. It may matter to you personally, but not really in any legal or strategic way.

Using your personal name may make it a tad harder to form a partnership, but that's not universally true, either. Plenty of firms are named after their founder and are thriving with a dozen partners.

I actually do both. I do work under my own name on a freelance basis, and also have a small LLC with a partner that we do work under a contrived name.

In the past, I've worked for a 2 person design firm named after the founder. I've worked for a 200 person design firm named after the founder. I've worked for a 4 person design firm with a contrived name.

The one advantage I see to using your own name is that you already own it. It's likely (fairly) unique. No need to spend a week brainstorming new ideas. It's practical in that sense.

To counter some of the arguments you've heard (mainly to point out that they are merely arguments...not really anything agreed upon):

For using your name:

It's too "ego", artsy or self-centered

That's valid (ie Donald Trump) but sometimes that's a good thing too (one could argue Trump has done very well)

"What if you hire employees?"

That shouldn't be an issue at all. Lots of huge design and ad agencies are named after their founder. And they have plenty of employees. Besides, you can always change the name later.

You're not a popular designer yet

I don't think that matters.

It's lame, not original

Only true if your name is Bob Smith. Even then, "Bob Smith Design" might work just fine in Bob's particular local market.

For coming up with a contrived name:

It's more distinctive

It could be. Then again, your own name may also be more distinctive.

It's better if you plan to work in team

I'm not sure why that would matter. Teams are made up of all sorts of people and companies all with a wide variety of names.

It makes you look more like a serious business

Law firms are pretty serious. They're usually always named after themselves.

In summary, there doesn't seem to be particular universal arguments one way or the other. Two of the biggest agencies in the industry both took different routes: Oglivy and IDEO. Both options seemed to work out for both of them. I have a hunch, at the end of the day, your company name is secondary to your portfolio and reputation. With a good portfolio and track record, you can probably name your company anything you want.

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+250

I responded to a similar question at Freelance.SE. I've actually run all 3 types over the years..... a business name, as myself, and as a business name which included my own name.

The gist....

Using a business name:

  • People tend to treat you as an "intern" or some random employee. I often find conversations, at least at the beginning, are very abrupt and borderline "pushy" rather than being overall respectful. I think this is just the human tendency to treat business as if all they want is money. Which, ultimately they do. But it causes a change in interpersonal interactions in my experience.

  • Cold calls. As a business almost every single cold call asking about services has been a waste of time.

  • It's unmemorable. Yes you can come up with the most unique, whiz-bang name but it still won't be remembered by many. Make it too "whiz-bang" or complicated and it may be frustrating for client to remember -- if they can't spell it correctly because you've used a z or an x or and f rather than 's', 'ecs', or 'ph' they may have trouble finding you. Keep it simple whenever possible.

  • It generally takes more convincing to clients before they'll feel you are trustworthy enough to handle their project. Ideas or concepts for a client's business can be a very personal thing to them. Some find it difficult to settle on or hire a business to handle what they percieved is so imperative. Kind of like putting a child in day care as opposed to hiring a personal nanny. Most would prefer the nanny, but they may settle on the day care due to costs.

  • Idea/Concept Theft. Really the occurs either way. However, people seem more willing to lift, borrow, or steal the ideas/concepts provided by a business. They don't see an individual being harmed. Not really a lot of sense to it, but it is the reality. So, work posted online may be copied more or just outright stolen more. I don't have any quantitate figures for this. So it may just be my own personal experience.

As a person:

  • Clients, in general tend to be much more respectful and open to discussions. They actually listen to you if you suggest something may be a bad idea. After all it's you they've hired so they tend to trust your opinion more.

  • Clients seek you out not a "business to do some work". In my experience I get far, far, far more word-of-mouth business when using my name. People like dealing with people. This seems especially true when considering areas of creativity or ambiguous concepts to be visualized. There are always those clients that are fine paying some crowd-source-design-mill for the cheapest artwork they can get. If those are your clients, okay. However, if you want to build lasting, rememberable, repeat clients, they want the personal touch individuals provide. They like knowing when they call, they call you not some office where you may or may not still be working.

A mix, i.e. Terry Smith Design/Design by Terry/SmithDesign, etc.:

  • This can be the best of both worlds. However, don't pretend to be more than you are. If you are a one man shop, don't hide it. Clients will realize that "Smith Design" really is only Terry Smith and treat you as an individual even though you are operating under a business name.

  • This is often better than a straight business name because it's got a unique personal identifier in the title. Years later, clients may never remember that "Whiz-bang Design" did that work for them, Or they may remember "Terry Smith" did the work, but can't remember what company Terry worked for. However if they remember "Terry Smith" did the work and the company has that name in its title, it's an easy thing to find.


Other areas:

Using your name is not ego-centric. After all if you are doing all the work, then it is you. There's no harm in branding yourself. We all know freelance can be feast or famine and you'll be thankful if your name becomes synonymous with quality work. It makes marketing and (heaven forbid) job seeking much easier down the road. There's a great deal of difference between promoting yourself as offering services and being megalomaniacal about how great you may be.

If you hire employees there's no issue using any of the above. If you've marketed yourself as an individual, it's perfectly normal to have an assistant or whatever you want to call them. Clients contact you for your work, they generally understand that it's you that has complete oversight.

Not being popular.. well you'll only get popular by using it.

Lame.. not original.. well if you're name meets those then you may want to look into a business + name alternative. "John Smith" generally won't be rememberable to anyone. So yeah.. that's a consideration but it's completely depended upon the actual name you have.

Business name being more distinctive... how so? Generally someone's own name is far more distinctive. No one ever remembers they random business that they have brief interactions with or that business they heard about and just wanted to check out.

More serious. Not sure I get this. I don't agree with it at all. Using a business name is no more "serious" than using your own name. There are tons of designers using their own name. The fashion industry alone is highly swayed to an individuals own name and they are all taken seriously.

The others.....

Bankruptcy.. does it matter? If you're broke you're broke. If you are a one-man, non-incorporated studio, any bankruptcy will be on you, not some "Doing Business As" (DBA) name. If you are incorporated, yes the business can fail but as an owner/proprietor you are still listed on any documents regarding the bankruptcy. So, there's really no layer of invisibility there. Its a false sense of security if you think a failed business doesn't reflect on you as an individual and a business operator.

Reputation... if you plan on bilking and flaking out on clients, then yeah, perhaps a business name is better and then you can just change it every 6 months or whatever. But if that's not your intention does this really matter? I don't expect you are going into business expecting to create a bad reputation for yourself. But realize that people are much quicker to give "bad reviews" to a company than a person. Just look online :)


TL;DR: It doesn't really matter in terms of operations. It does make a difference in how other people percieved you. The more personal the name of the business the more personal client interactions tend to be.

  • And there's my small novella trying to not be a duplicate of the Freelance.se post :) – Scott Aug 31 '15 at 22:28
  • I think it's great input and good points, thanks a lot. You're right with the personal touch and how people think you're an employee rather than the owner when you use a business name. One other thing I think makes sense is that this question has different answers in the era of social media compared to 10-15 years ago; I noticed there's seem to be a big split between a person and his/her business name when they are the centerpiece of that business and that can get out of control. Ultimately, lot of them often end up using both names to appear in search results, for example. – go-junta Aug 31 '15 at 23:06
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I think its mostly a trend thing. It boils down to a few things:

Do you see yourself as an artist? If you do then it is quote natural build a name for yourself, like most artists through the ages have done. There is also a natural tendency to want to do this early in your career/school as you need to eventually sell yourself.

Once your brand starts to grow it may become a problem. You may after all want to separate your work and personal life. you never really should stop accumulating personal fame. It is just that once your company is big, needs external investment or multiple people it becomes comfortable to use a non personal name. For example the company may fold, do you want your name associated with bankrupcy.

  • "do you want your name associated with bankrupcy" = I dunno. Seems to work out OK for Trump. :) – DA01 Aug 27 '15 at 14:28
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    @DA01 Sure, its not catch all thing. It works better for others. Anyway just because some people win in the lottery does not mean its a wery good investment strategy. – joojaa Aug 27 '15 at 15:16
  • well, the point is that it's not really relevant. Whether you use your own name, or a made up name, if you go bankrupt, it would still be associated with bankruptcy. And if you decide to form a new company, it's easy enough to just come up with a new name then. I don't think it's really an argument one way or the other. – DA01 Aug 27 '15 at 16:28
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    @DA01 sensitivity for bankruptcy is a bit different in different parts of the world. For example over here a personal bankruptcy would be a big red flag, while its business as usual in US. Association by name is a bigger issue and if your company has your name then the confusion is possible. – joojaa Aug 27 '15 at 17:25
  • yes, good point. In the US it is very much "par for the course" – DA01 Aug 27 '15 at 17:35
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I feel it is a very simple choice. Based on your intentions or the intentions of your business.

  • Do you want to freelance and make a name for yourself? -> Pick your name.
  • Do you want to hire people as soon as possible? -> Pick a company name.

My opinion: don't be that one-man-company writing emails referring to yourself as "we". It's insincere. If you found the company with others you need a name, but other than that I see no reason.

  • Of course plenty of companies are also named after an individual and also have employees. – DA01 Aug 31 '15 at 1:18
  • Yes, only the other way around is a problem in my opinion. – KMSTR Aug 31 '15 at 3:05
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I think it is very important to use your own name. It is not egoistic at all, it is your name and you are using it as an artist ( graphic artist ). Stefan Sagmeister, Karlsson & Wilker, Massimo Vignelli, all use their names. Vignelli expanded into Vignelli Associates. You can always use DBA in case of expansion, at which point you can use another name. But I think it is critical for any creative to use their own name, it helps your reputation. How cool would it be to google a name and have your work come up.

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It matters less than the product.

If what you're selling is fantastic, then you could call your company "RayWenderlich.com" and people would would still hold you in high regard.

If you're not going to use your name, I recommend following the guidelines in the book, "Made to Stick", in which it has as much of the following as you can cram into it:

  1. Simplicity

  2. Unexpectedness

  3. Concreteness

  4. Credibility

  5. Emotions

  6. Stories

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Depends how you want to market yourself. Some designers refer to themselves as "we" or "us" and pretend they're a big business, whereas some freelancers like to be honest and upfront, and keep it personal. I'd market yourself as yourself, get your name out there and maybe think about making a brand long-term.

  • Note that there are plenty of firms named after a person that do have employees and aren't lying at all when they say we. – DA01 Sep 2 '15 at 17:57
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It won't matter, while some people enjoy having a name that represents a company or business, it won't affect anything, yes, your domain name would be affected, and it would be better if it were simple so people could find your website, but we're talking about your BUSINESS name. What is your website? Did you think about using that name, because if employees call your business that, I'd suggest using that. But all in all, it's just a name. Websites are reflected on their names, but businesses are important from the inside and not outside. Thank you.

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