A recurring question I get asked is about how to name a company or business. Specifically, if you are a freelancer or self-employed soloist, should you use you own personal name or come up with another name.
To use your personal name or not
For solo freelancers I don’t think there is a right or wrong solution. So what I will do is give the reasons why I went the route I did, then maybe this will offer up some thoughts for you.
I will say straight from the bat that I would have loved to have been able to use my own name had it not been so common. There is already a Graham Smith designer and photographer. I liked the idea of identifying what I do by my name, much like David Airey has successfully done. David fortunately has a unique surname to build on, Smith is most certainly not.
Know your intentions
I don’t intend to take on staff, I don’t intend to grow in physical size. My intentions are to stay solo, the most I might do is to hire or build a separate studio instead of working from home.
Knowing I will be forever solo, it made more sense to somehow reflect that independent nature in my company name. Using your own name is the ultimate clarification of this, but there are times when you see a business that has used someone’s name, usually a founder, but they are clearly bigger than one person.
Common occurrences of this are local tradesmen that start of solo, flying under their name. Then they grow, take on staff, take on commercial businesses. Yet the van you see floating around still says Frank Smiths Electrical even though they employ 30 staff.
That’s where knowing and understanding your intentions and future plans are important.
Graham Smith I am but am not
Given my birth name was out, the remaining option was to find a name that could be perceived as one person, rather than being to open to interpretation. This is a personal view, I didn’t want potential clients to possibly view me as a larger entity.
Being viewed as one person was important to me, important to perception and the type of clientelle I wanted to attract.
Some of the reasons are thus :
- When you think of consultants, photographers and artists etc, you know what you are likely to get. Not just work wise but also in terms of interaction and communications.
- Flying solo means you are responsible for everything from marketing, advertising, liaising, accounts, sales, the work, cleaning the office and making the coffee. It was important for me to have potential clients have that mental association.
- It’s down to me that a client may see an add for ImJustCreative in DesignWeek, because of me they see me featured in a blog, its me on Twitter, Facebook and everywhere else. It’s not someone else, someone else isn’t the mastermind behind my own branding or making of fine coffee, it’s all me.
- If you see one of my logo designs, you ultimately know it’s done by me, and not a mate of mine. This helps create trust and expectations are more easily controlled. Some clients are looking for a certain style, but if they are viewing logo design work possibly from a team effort it could lead to some hesitation.
- Hiring one person based on their predominate style or experience can be as important as visit the same hair stylist or using the same financial consultant. This is a powerful association to have working in your favour.
- If you are a solo freelancer and you have a name that could mean you are a multiple staffed agency, you loose some of that prestige.
- In terms of communication it’s useful. There is no “who should I be taking to” or “who is responsible for this.”
The creation of ImJustCreative was no easy task. It took some months of frustrating list making to finally settle on a name. The naming process was exhaustive and I looked at hundreds of variations.
One morning I recall looking at all the names and thinking “what am I? Well, I’m just creative.” That was the light bulb moment, asking myself the most basic of questions resulted in ImJustCreative. That’s not to say the last few months of list making was a waste of time, typically without that process, I might not have realised the significance or relevance of ImJustCreative without having discounted so many other names.
The ‘Im‘ part is crucial as this hints at one person, and not a team. It’s by no means definitive, but it’s a good second option from a real name. The ‘just‘ just sums up that this is all I do, but has a sense of seeing someone shrug their shoulders when they say it as well as maybe a subtle sense of self deprecation. It’s a bit like when someone says “its just part of the job” or “I’m just glad I could help.” ‘Just‘ just helps bring an element of modesty as well as defining what I do.
As a package, my social media presence, my work, my work ethos and portfolio all help bring in a sense of clarity, definition and also one person sincerity.
I am 5′ 11″ not 6’5″
I do not want to be perceived as a bigger entity than who I really am or what I do.
I am a logo designer first and foremost.
In moderation it’s not a big thing, when small companies try to elevate their perception more in line with bigger and more established competitors. But you must be under no illusions, to do so means you must also meet the same level of client and customer service and expectations of those ‘real’ bigger companies that you aspire to be like.
This is one of the biggest problems of naming a one person business in such a way as to look bigger than you are. It may work out short term, but mid to long term you are likely setting your self up for a big fall.
So this was the closest I was going to get to a birth name, that instilled this sense of individuality whilst at the same time defining that I am a creative.
The one downside to a personal name comes when you are just starting out, in that it doesn’t define what you do. Getting that ‘name for yourself’ like David Airy takes time, effort and patience as well as some luck and fortuitous timing and location.
If you go down the route of using your birth name, expect to have to put in a huge amount of work to build that recognition and association to what you do. This is no different to not using your birth name, I have and continue to put a huge amount of effort into my own advertising and marketing over the last 2 years.
But like anything, one off lucky breaks can make a huge difference. Win an award and you are catapulted ahead in terms of recognition, then the task is to keep the momentum.
Why no logo
A few have asked me why I didn’t find a name that had logo in it. I did consider it, but the options available RE domains were sparse and frankly, none sounded as good as the one I settled for. For sure, having that level of clarity is useful, but finding available domain names is often the big decider with what name you use.
Some designers like TheLogoFactory, LogoBird have much clearer and instant associations due to ‘logo’ in their name, useful. How I overcome that is to have a strong factual tag line. This makes it crystal clear as to what sort of creative I am without any waffle.
ImJustCreative – Logo, Identity & Design.
It’s a boom boom boom of clear, short and precise facts.
It can be grey
This is not to say you shouldn’t name your freelancing business by something more rounded or generic. It comes down to the sort of clients you want to attract, the general perception and also what your future plans are. Importantly, comes down to how much work you are prepared to put into the marketing and self promotion.
If you are a lazy pig, doesn’t matter how cool or unique your name is or what you call yourself, you ain’t gonna get noticed.
Some general pointers
You may be a freelancer now but have plans to work with other designers or even take on staff. If so, you need to factor this in so a name now doesn’t limit your perception when you expand. You want to avoid having to rename yourself as you have outgrown a name, especially if you already have a strong client base and physical/online reputation.
Consider your future plans when thinking of a business name. Be honest and true, then you are better equipped to work out how to go about marketing yourself.
If you have a unique and even colourful personal name and you plan to remain solo for the foreseeable future, I would look to use that as your basis for building a potential brand.
If it’s such a unique name that is relatively straight forward to spell then in my book, you are in a enviable position. Twitter usernames, Facebook profiles, email and domain names are all open for you.
Consistency in your naming across all areas is paramount.
Tricky to spell or pronounce? The one exception to using your birth name is if it is tricky to pronounce or spell. It may be unique, the domain may be available, but if people can’t remember the spelling or even pronounce it, you are generating a massive problem.
You are used to it, as your friend’s, but potential clients and customers may think the opposite. The best thing to do is ask friends for their advice, do some field testing if you are unsure.
You are likely to already be aware of any potential problems with your name. For example, if when you give a name over the phone, how many times do you have to repeat yourself or spell it out. If so, then this same ‘uncertainty’ will be the same for someone keying in a domain name.
People are lazy when it comes to tricky names to spell or recall, especially when keying in a domain name. Tt can easily put people off and it can become a major hindrance and frustration for all those concerned.
Don’t rush into finding a name. Also don’t be lazy. More times than I would like to admit, I see customers approach me with a new business with a name that just is not appropriate or worse, is just beyond tacky.
Through their limited understanding of marketing and branding, they believe they have a way cool name. Often this is just not the case.
Avoid names that are currently based on trends and fads, both naming and technological and even social. Trends and fads die, which means your business name will sound dated very quickly.
Any time I now see something called iBlah that is not an official iProduct, I sort of squirm a little. It’s a little lazy, it’s a little cheeky and will ultimately lead to some undoing further down the line.
Same can be true for companies that started their brand names with ‘e’, such as e-blah.com. The ‘e’ prefix has sort of taken on prehistoric proportions and is decidedly old hat. It was cool and new, now it’s not.
Creating new spellings of existing popular names can sound cool, but can be problematic. Tricked up words can lead to confusion, especially where domain names are concerned. Best avoided.
Use a thesaurus.
Some combination of words, although cool sounding on their own, when placed together can sound awkward. Speak and speak the name until you are sure it sounds natural and rolls of the tongue rather than it sounding like the words have been unceremoniously shoehorned together and held together with Duct Tape.
Made up names are not as easy to ‘invent’ as you might want to believe. For major companies that do invent brand new words, that become successful and even added to the Dictionary, months and months of research is done by very specialized linguistic experts.
And remember, even they don’t always get it right.
This also references the previous point. Finding a made up name that sounds like it WASN’T actually made up, rolls of the tongue and looks right is just ‘monumentally challenging’.
If you don’t use your personal name, then you may want to consider associating your company name with your real name in conversation, in social media and blog posts. I tend to do this in tandem, intermixing the times I refer to myself as ImJustCreative and Graham Smith.
If you opt for a name that does not clearly define what you do, ensure you have a strong tag line that does. This is so very important. A random name without a defining tag line is a wasted opportunity.
FINAL POINTER AND CASE STUDY
It’s not good enough to check your own country for similar named businesses, more often than not, you need to check worldwide. Given how the internet makes us all so close, any resemblance to a freelancer living on the other side of the world can cause headaches. I am case in point.
Before I had even registered on Twitter and knew about Social Media, I thought ImJustCreative was wickedly awesome. I looked though the UK and even America for any business named in a similar way and made sure all the .co and .com domains were free. After all these checks, I felt confident to proceed.
Some 5 months later I come across ‘JustCreativeDesign’, Mr Jacob Cass from Australia, usually known as ‘JustCreative’ on Twitter etc. Guh. We both came to being around the same time of the year which was even more coincidental.
The only real problem comes from Jacob’s short hand version for Twitter – ImJustCreative vs JustCreative, due to the character count limitation. So although our main names are different, sometimes the shorthand version causes a little confusion.
Jacob is someone I would ordinarily have never ever met or had to deal with ‘competition’ pre internet or pre huge popularity of Social Media. But now, no matter where you live, no one is a stranger and you are less likely to be ‘unique’.
Who would of thought I would end up with a similar name with someone doing a very similar line of work with that person being on the other side of the world. Goes to show.
Do your research if you intend to work Social Media for contacts and contracts worldwide.