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Should you use your own name or create a brand name for your business?

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A friend and ex-colleague of mine recently quit her full-time job and started her own business as a branding consultant. Like any freelancer looking for new business opportunities, she planned to create a website that would showcase her previous work and detail her skills. But first she had to answer a critical question: should she create a new brand name to represent her company, or just use her own name? Since I run a brand consulting agency with one full-time employee (me), she asked me for advice. No matter what kind of freelance work you do – from a brand consultant to an accountant – this is a question you need to answer. Using your personal name means presenting yourself as an individual contributor and keeping you front and center. Developing a brand name, on the other hand, requires a thorough naming process and creates some “daylight” between you and the company. Either way can work, and deciding which one is right for you will depend on a number of personal factors. I’ve outlined five reasons below for the first approach: creating a new brand name for your freelance business.

A brand name suggests scale

In the past, many companies took the name of their founder. Think Lipton, Ford or Charles Schwab. But the modern day counterparts of these companies develop more unique brand names like Starbucks, Tesla, or Robinhood (For the record, Starbuck is a fictional character from MobyDick, Nikola Tesla died 60 years before Tesla Motors was founded, and it’s unlikely that Robin Hood was a real person, let alone involved with the financial services app.). Because of this shift, a distinct brand name instead of a founder’s name (i.e. yours) can give the impression of a larger organization, implying more breadth and depth.

If you’re thinking, “I don’t want anyone to think I’m more than one person,” don’t underestimate the disadvantages that solo freelancers can have in competitive situations. Remember that people you’ll never meet—whether they’re decision makers or procurement professionals—may be making judgments based on your name alone. For example, imagine you had to choose one of the following brand consultancies: Catchword, Lexicon, or Sally Flakowitz. The personal name creates an awkward apples-to-oranges situation that you’re probably better off avoiding.

Related Topics: Why is brand name important for startups?

A brand name gives you room to grow

Speaking of size, another benefit of a brand name is its potential to expand as your business changes. You may not plan to build a 15-person team—but plans often change. Should your business become more than a one-person operation, a brand name offers room to grow.

This logic even applies from project to project. If you take on a large assignment, you may need to subcontract work or hire other freelancers as teammates. When you show up with a co-worker at a client’s office, it doesn’t inspire confidence to introduce yourself as independent freelancers who happen to be working together. It creates a temporary, non-binding feeling. It’s much easier – and sounds more professional – to say, “Hi, I’m Rob and this is Sally [BrandName].”

A brand name provides an opportunity to express ideas

What ideas and feelings does your name evoke in those who hear it? Hopefully, at least among your family and friends, there will be many positive adjectives associated with your name—perhaps smart, creative, and hardworking. But for those you’ve never met? Never heard of you? It’s just a name. Unless you name “Sting” or “The Rock,” your name doesn’t really convey anything Meaning. It doesn’t tell potential customers that you’re smart or creative. It’s not even a name you chose.

But creating a brand name allows you say something. Some brand names are simple and descriptive (e.g. Best Buy), while others merely suggest an idea (e.g. Zipcar). Others venture into the abstract – they carry no relevant meaning but can still convey a sense of personality, like Apple (simple) or Virgin (irrespective). Whatever approach your brand name takes, you can use it to tell people about you and your work.

See Also: The Do’s and Don’ts of Naming Your Business (Infographic)

A brand name can be easier to spell and pronounce

Some first and last names are easier to pronounce than others, but the brand name you create is likely to be shorter than your personal name (e.g. one word instead of two). And since you’re creating the name from scratch, you have a chance to ensure its usability. While there are exceptions, most of the best brand names are short and sweet. Names composed of one or more real English words are more likely to be understood, pronounceable, and spelled correctly than many people’s names.

If you are interested in doing business abroad, you may find that your personal name has additional disadvantages. Names that are commonplace in one language or culture may seem strange or unpronounceable in other parts of the world. Your name can lead people to believe – true or not – that you are from a particular country or region, and whether it’s fair or not, that belief can be fraught with prejudice. However, English has become the lingua franca of global business. A real English word or two is likely to be understood and pronounced by many business people for whom English is not a first language.

A brand name can be more distinctive

The downside to the above point is that in some cases personal names are so common that they go unnoticed. If your name is “Niamh Moloughney,” good luck getting people to spell and pronounce it correctly. But if you’re one of the 11,000+ Ann Millers on LinkedIn, your potential clients may have trouble remembering you or distinguishing you from other freelancers.

Competitor name verification is a crucial step in any brand name process. When creating your brand name, you can use a different naming style, choose a significantly shorter or longer name than the competition, or find an initial that is unique to the category.

Ultimately, this decision will depend heavily on your first and last name. How common are they? Are they difficult to spell or pronounce? Will they associate you with a certain language, country or region – for better or for worse? Some people’s names just scream to be branded, like Smart & Final (named after founders JS Smart and HD Final) or Fox Racing (named after founder Geoff Fox). They are short, simple, easy to remember, and have built-in meaning or imagery. If you’re not lucky enough to have such a distinctive, evocative name, consider creating a brand name for your freelance business.

Also see: 10 Secrets to Mastering Your Personal Brand

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