Should You Use Your Real Name or a Business Name for Freelancing?
John Smith, we’ve got some talking to do.
If I could get back all the hours that I spent stressing about what to call my business, I could probably write at least 3 solid articles and still have time to post grainy photos of my dog on Instagram.
And after all that, I ended up naming my business “Jessie Lewis.” Haha, go figure.
I’m the poster child for waffling around on a business name, but you shouldn’t be. In fact, I basically did enough waffling for both of us, so you can save time and just walk through my analysis below.
What should you name your freelance business? Is your birth name good enough, or should you get creative? Does it matter?
Read on, my padwan.
The benefits of using your given name for your freelance business
For most freelancers, using your actual name is the best way to go. Not only is it great for personal branding, but it just makes your life easier. You’ve got clients and confusing tax forms now — You need something simple in your life.
If that alone didn’t totally convince you, fine. Here’s my super subjective breakdown:
Reason #1 why your real name is awesome: Keep all of your everything in one place
The beauty of freelancing is that you have the freedom to try lots of different things. Sure, you’re designing websites today, but what if you start monetizing that illustration hobby in a few months? Or even if you venture into an entirely new field, like leather working or book writing?
An online home base branded with your own name can house a lot of disparate services that “Foxy Designs” might not. All of your services are tied together because they’re all related to you. You’ll be far more nimble, which is vital for any solo business owner.
#2: It’s easy to switch from a personal name to a business name
…Though not necessarily the other way around.
It’s best to build offerings off of your personal brand as a freelancer, rather than start with a business name and try to highlight your given name later. Though goodness knows a lot of people are trying. It seems the trend these days is every blogger and their mother who’s built their businesses around a business name/blog title are now making the switch to URLs with their personal name. Skip the hassle!
#3: You don’t have to worry about a “Doing Business As” form
If you’re operating as a sole proprietorship (meaning you are running your business but you haven’t filed with your local government as an LLC or Corporation), you are legally obligated to use your given name in your business name. This is because you pay both your personal and business taxes as an individual.
In order to operate under another name as a sole proprietor, you must file a “DBA,” or “Doing Business As” form (Small Business Trends has a good overview).
Disclaimer: I’m not a tax professional, and I’m simply speaking from my own experiences. Please talk to someone who actually knows this stuff.
It’s generally a good idea to register as an LLC or Corporation once you’ve settled into your shiny new business because it does provide you with more legal protection if you’re sued. However, it comes with some costs and a bit of complicated paperwork. A lot of people (like yours truly) prefer to stay as a sole proprietor for a while until all the day to day kinks of getting a business going are hammered out. Sticking with your given name is just one more way to stay scrappy and stay focused on what you need right now: More clients.
#4: It’s just plain easier to remember
Say you’re working in a coffee shop, enjoying the productivity boost from people watching you (yes, this is fact, it’s science). You happen to meet someone really cool who you might want to work with, but you don’t have any business cards on you. On your way out, you tell them to find you online. They sound excited and say they will.
But do they? Maybe, maybe not. People have terrible memories. “Jill Derpstein of Ophelia House Studios” isn’t the easiest thing to recall after hearing it once. Instead, give them just one bit of information to hold onto and just hammer in that one name.
When a business name for your freelancing makes sense
Now, what about those freelancers who are making bank under a more creative business name?
It’s definitely possible, and if you feel that it’s the right way to go, don’t let me stop you!
That said, in nearly every case I have seen of successful freelancers who have operated under a separate business name, at least one of the following has been true:
Your given name is hard to spell
Having a unique name is great for standing out from the crowd, but if even your closest friends forget how to spell it, it might not be the best for personal branding. In this situation, a business name that’s either a variation of your name or something else entirely is a plausible option.
Your name is too common to show up in search results
Sarah Jones, you’re likely going to have a tough time buying a domain name with your name, let alone getting on the first page of Google. In this case, a business name may help you be more memorable.
You’re concerned about changing your name after marriage
If you’re single and planning on one day taking your spouse’s name, you might be hesitant to use your given name at all. I was. Would changing my name confuse my audience? Would I lose search ranking?
I decided to use a non-personal business name at the time, which worked and made me feel better. Though honestly, it would have been just fine to stick with my given name for the time being and then make an announcement when I got married…
You plan on hiring or contracting other freelancers to work with you, operating as an agency
Many freelancers choose to subcontract other freelancers, such as a developer hiring a designer to help with a client project.
If you’ve built a network like this and plan to begin subcontracting freelancers on a regular basis, it might make sense to present yourself more as an agency of sorts rather than as an individual. This is especially a good idea if you’re a freelance project manager. You may still be the show-runner featured on your website, but a non-personal business name will help your customers understand how you operate. “Agency” or “Studio” sets the stage nicely, rather than “Actually, I’m hiring someone else to do work you thought I’d do on my own.”
You’re 100% committed to your specialty
Starting a freelance business is winding road, and chances are your days now will look totally different from your days a few months from now.
At some point, though, you’ll find you have a good grasp of who you are and what kinds of services you offer. If you’re still attached to a business name by this point, it’s time to make the leap. You may want to go ahead and register that LLC while you’re at it.
Your business name is just one part of your whole brand
What you call yourself is often the first impression a customer has of your business. However, it’s only a piece of the puzzle. How you interact with your clients, your personality as an individual, your website’s messaging — these are what flesh out who you are as a company.
So go ahead and spend the requisite time planning out what you’re going to call yourself. But also remember that the worst business name ever can still build a devoted client base with their amazing work. Don’t let the question of a business name hold you back from getting those clients!