Should You Be the Brand?

It’s a common question that many freelancers ponder at some point in their freelancing careers — should I market myself as the commodity or form a business to promote my services? One way isn’t necessarily better than another, and the best path for you depends on a number of factors. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each option.

You As the Brand

Here are some of the pros and cons you may experience if you use your own name to form your brand.

Pros

  • You don’t have to take steps to formally create and register a business name.
  • You are not tied to offering a specific type of services.
  • You’re unique; there is no other “you” out there.
  • Personal and business merge, making your social media and networking activities more streamlined.

Cons

  • You may be viewed as a “free agent” by some potential clients.
  • Using your name as your brand implies that you’re a one-person shop.
  • You can’t change your name without adjusting your brand.
  • It can be difficult to separate work from who you are as a person.
  • Personal and business merge, potentially limiting your social media involvement.

Forming a Business

If you decide to form a business (or a DBA), here are some of the advantages and disadvantages you may experience.

Pros

  • You can more easily separate work from your own personality.
  • Some clients may view doing business with another business more favorably than with an individual.
  • You can hire others under your company name.
  • You (or your name) are not needed to keep the business running, and you can explore selling your company at some point.

Cons

  • It takes time, research and some investment (for fees, startup, etc.) to form a business.
  • If you are already well-known by your name, you will have to start over developing a new brand.
  • You may have to follow certain regulations and guidelines, depending on the structure of your business.

There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to either scenario. But keep in mind that it’s not always that cut and dry. For example, you could create a formal business with your personal name (John Doe Enterprises).

My experience with this was a little backwards, since I started my business first and it was my brand for a long time. When I started branching out and doing some different things that weren’t related to my business – freelance writing, for example – it stopped making sense to use my company to promote everything.

I decided to change my online brand to Alyssa Gregory. To me, this incorporates all elements of me – business owner, writer, consultant – and leaves room for whatever I decide to tackle next. It all fits nice and pretty under the “Alyssa Gregory” umbrella.

What’s your take on branding your name instead of a company? And have you ever decided to change your brand?

Thumbnail image credit: reuben4eva

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  • Steve

    You forgot to mention one big advantage of forming a company. A company provides a degree of protection for your personal assets.

  • SL

    From an insurance perspective (insurance underwriter speaking) by operating under your own name you may find it difficult to get certain types of insurance. i.e. Your home insurance company may be nervous knowing that your home and business are under the same legal entity.

    From a risk management perspective, by operating under your personal name you risk tarnishing your brand by actions in your personal life. Take, for example, Martha Stewart who was indicted in her personal life for insider trading but the share price of her business suffered. We see this all the time in athletes, what happens when Micheal Jordan stops playing basketball? Does Nike continue making the AirJordan line of shoes?

    Hope that helps,

  • chimpzilla

    I’ve been going the route of branding myself. I see the appeal of creating a business, but I feel that branding myself will have a greater long term benefit for me personally than devoting my effort to a company name. When you brand yourself you can own the search results for your personal name, and can build confidence in prospective clients if you aren’t an anonymous internet entity.

    I like to know the people I’m working with. So many companies are calling themselves XXXXX Media, and at a certain point it all blends in. How does one separate from the crowd when everything looks the same.

    People have confidence when they know the individual working on their project. So for me it’s all about branding myself, but I understand the pros of using a business instead.

  • Mahzian

    Great article! I’m actually considering this myself at the time as I’m starting to get some freelance jobs in (if I should register a business or just use my name) thanks!

  • AndrewCooper

    Another great article, Alyssa! You just don’t stop do you :) I’ve been subscribed to your About.com Small Business Information E-Mail newsletters too by the way – Great material! (Just thought I’d say!)

    My take regarding your question is that it all depends on the individual person and in my case I brand both my business and my name. My business brand deals with my business customers that hire me for my services and my personal / name brand deals with my personal life and take on my doings like blogging on student life, volunteering, being in business, web design, etc and it’s also for the writing that I do. I try to keep them as seperate as possible to ensure that I exist and live as Andrew Cooper, and not as my business!

  • John Cowen

    Interesting, I’ve been having a similar debate myself recently. I started doing freelance work several years ago using a business name.

    A lot of online marketing for me comes from Twitter and site comments. i used to do this under my business name, but now feel more comfortable doing this with my real name as I think the personal/personality factor is important in these contexts.

    So I’ve been debating whether to rebrand the business to my own name. I’m hesitant for lots of reasons, but can see it happening in time.

  • http://www.bobbelderbos.com/ bobbelderbos

    Alyssa, interesting article, thanks. I choose my own name as a brand and I recognize a lot in the Pros you list above. As you move along you create your own unique brand and it perfectly fits into your social media
    Regards, Bob/ @bbelderbos

  • moflow

    My approach is somewhat of a hybrid. Although I operate under a company name – ‘moflow’ – that brand is built around my skills/passions. I’m directly incorporated into the name (mo=my initials, also suggest ‘more’) and the ‘flow’ encompasses both the writing and yoga lines of my business. It’s meaningful, but also flexible enough to accommodate growth in terms of either staffing, or new lines of business! It has worked well for me so far.

  • http://www.avertua.com Alyssa Gregory

    Some excellent points!
    @Steve and @SL – Very important additions to the pros and cons from a business perspective.
    @AndrewCooper – Thanks for the compliments — always appreciated. :)
    For those of you who have made your own name the brand, have you ever been in a situation when you wish you had more separation?

    • http://www.idude.net iDude

      @Alyssa in regards to separation not really, then again it’s one thing to be known as iDude who happens to be Chaz (Chuck) Scholton, instead of the other way around. I opted to market my services using a Persona instead of trying to pass myself off as company with some fancy business name. Mind you, I have a business name up my sleeve “Silicon Cows” and a few domains such as blogadacious.com, blogdacious.com, buyitnownow.com, rocktronicmusic.com, PorcelainPirates.com to name a few.

  • http://www.idude.net iDude

    Alyssa, I really enjoy your articles. The topics you write about seem to have perfect timing with things going on in my life.

    It’s ironic that I was having a conversation with a family member this last week regarding this issue. Why? Because I’m extremely uncertain about what or who “iDude” is at the moment.

    A little history, I came up with iDude as an alias to market and sell my iHTML programming skills, Add-On Modules and templates for the iHTML Merchant e-commerce solution. I was iDude (internet Dude) sitting in a niche market of iHTML development.

    Needless to say, iHTML jumped the shark and it’s user and developer base gradually dwindled. A few years ago, I took iDude.net completely off-line. I stopped selling Add-On modules and templates. I stopped offering programming services to any new clients and cut back on the iHTML clients I was working with.

    iDude is not a company name but a form of self branding. Despite the fact, I’m not really certain what iDude represents at the moment. I have to come up with a new vision and direction since it’s no longer about iHTML.

    However, this form of self branding paid off for me and I had had plenty of work from it at one time. It drove sales for a number of my Add-On’s and templates for the iHTML Merchant too.

  • http://www.driliquid.com/ref=sitepoint Shaydez

    I’ve done both methods owned a respectable web development / marketing firm.. and did great, going out as a business has ALOT more responsibilities as opposed to being just a freelancer.

    I recently just switched to self branding; and going out as a freelancer because i want to be hired by marketing firms, web design studios, and other agencies and have them go out and get the jobs for me. Its consistent work, i can concentrate on what i want to do and what i do best (build websites, and branding); i hated going out looking for projects going to meetings presenting my company etc… it was such a hard time and 20% of the time i’m designing 80% of project management.

    in my opinion I think going out as a freelancer is better in a way.. but it has its pros and cons. Don’t make much of a profit as a freelancer but the work is consistent. as a company you make 95% profilt but the work is only as consistent as you can make it.

  • http://www.unique-seo-services.com sajisuja

    I think personal name is better than company to make branding. It helps to work anywhere and anytime and not need to meet people for getting the job. Thx, nice article for rethink to build my own brand.

  • Munir

    Thanks Alyssa, this is a right topic on the right time. I was in process of what to do regarding this. Thinking should I brand my name or should I form a business name. Now I have made my decision and I am going with branding my name…

  • Skyview

    Branding yourself I can see as being more difficult if you have a really common name like I do. I’ve just used a DBA thus far.

  • joellark

    There isn’t, I would argue, an either or case here. If you are in business today, then it becomes very important for you to have a personal brand that can be recognized. This remains true even if you don’t own your own business. I’m in Silicon Valley at this time, and it hasn’t been any clearer that to be taken seriously, to be able to command a good salary, and to be resilient to the pangs of the economy you have to establish yourself externally.

    Do it through blogging, speaking, kissing ass, delivering high quality visibly, whatever.. it has to be done.

    You should form your company in a way that protects you and your employees.